The Tennessee Legislature has recently garnered national attention with the attempted expulsion of three state representatives—and the eventual expulsion of Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson. An expulsion without criminal charges or an extensive investigation has not occurred in this legislature since before the Civil War, leaving many to ask precisely what happened, why and what this means for the future of state government and democracy at large.
The Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy will host a virtual event on Thursday, April 13, at noon to discuss the broader historical, political and spiritual context and to explore legislative effectiveness at the state level and the potential long-term impacts of last week’s events. This event is virtual only; a recording will be made available soon after the event.
The conversation will be moderated by Jon Meacham, acclaimed scholar, historian and co-chair of the Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy. Panelists for this discussion include Forrest Harris, director of Black Church Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of political science, emeritus, and Jacob Mchangama, founder and director of Justitia and newly appointed director of the Future of Free Speech Project, which will be housed at Vanderbilt University.
About the speakers
Jon Meacham holds the Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Chair in the American Presidency at Vanderbilt University, where he is also a distinguished visiting professor and co-chairs the Vanderbilt Project on Unity & Democracy. A biographer and contributing editor at Time magazine, he lectures widely in the United States on history, politics and religious faith, and he is the Canon Historian of Washington National Cathedral. In 2020, Meacham was a visiting lecturer at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee.
Forrest E. Harris is the director of Black Church Studies and a professor at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. Harris is nationally recognized as one of the most progressive scholars, theological educators and visionaries for prophetic Christianity in the Black Church tradition. Harris holds a B.A. from Knoxville College, Th.B. from American Baptist College and M.Div. and doctor of ministry degrees from Vanderbilt University Divinity School, where he was a Benjamin E. Mays Fellow and received the Florence Conwell Prize for preaching. Harris is the author of Ministry for Social Crisis: Theology and Praxis in the Black Church Tradition (Mercer University Press, 2003).
Bruce Oppenheimer’s research primarily focuses on Congress and American political institutions. His current primary interest is in how process changes have affected the ability of Congress to develop energy policy over the past half century. He is co-editor (with Lawrence Dodd) of Congress Reconsidered (ninth edition, CQ Press, 2009). In addition, he has recently worked on projects examining why African American House members rarely run for the U.S. Senate (with Gbemende Johnson and Jennifer Selin) and analyzing the effect of Iraq War deaths on congressional elections (with Christian Grose). He has been an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and a Brookings Institution Fellow and Guest Scholar.
Jacob Mchangama is CEO of the think tank Justitia and directs Justitia’s Future of Free Speech Project. He has written and commented extensively on free speech and human rights in international media outlets, including The Economist, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, BBC, CBS News, NPR, CNN, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal and Politico as well as top-tier academic and peer-reviewed journals. Mchangama is the producer and narrator of the podcast Clear and Present Danger and author of the critically acclaimed Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media (Basic Books, 2022).